Exhibitions: Living Legacies: The Arts of the Americas

Mantle (The Paracas Textile)

Mantle ("The Paracas Textile"). Paracas, Peru. Paracas artists, 300 B.C.A.D. 100. Cotton and camelid fiber, 58 1/4 x 24 1/2 in. (148 x 62.2 cm). Brooklyn Museum, John Thomas Underwood Memorial Fund, 38.121

Both the quantity and the quality of textiles from the South Coast of Peru demonstrate that weaving was of paramount importance to the Paracas people. This extraordinary mantle or cloak, made by early Paracas artists, is one of the most renowned Andean textiles in the world. Its small size suggests that it may have been used as an intimate ceremonial object.

The ninety figures decorating the border have been interpreted as a microcosm of life on Peru's south coast two thousand years ago, with a particular focus on agriculture. Many of the images illustrate native flora and fauna as well as cultivated plants. The order in which figures repeat has led some scholars to interpret the textile as a lunar calendar. Depictions of costumed figures may represent humans impersonating gods and acting as intermediaries between the real and supernatural worlds. Severed human "trophy" heads are shown as germinating seeds, suggesting the practice of ritual sacrifice and the interconnected cycles of birth and death.